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HTC One M8 for Windows Phone review: A winning flagship breathes new life into Windows Phone

Package all there is to love about Windows Phone 8.1 in a luxurious HTC handset, and you'll get this great One M8 variant.

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Lynn La Brian Bennett
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Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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12 min read

Editors' note: Due to their similarities, sections of this review have been taken from our review of the original HTC One M8 and HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition .

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8.3

HTC One M8 for Windows Phone

The Good

Verizon's HTC One M8 brings premium style to the Windows Phone franchise, has a brilliant 1080p display and excellent audio speakers, and it's powered by a robust quad-core processor.

The Bad

The Windows Phone OS has a smaller app market, the handset's battery is nonremovable, and like the Android M8s before it, photos aren't as sharp as those from its competitors.

The Bottom Line

While its camera isn't best-in-class and Windows Phone's underwhelming app selection still stings, the elegant and sophisticated HTC One M8 is an enticing alternative to Nokia models.

With the latest version of its One M8 , HTC brings one of Android's most celebrated smartphones to Windows Phone. The handset's premium metal design and top-end specs breathe some welcome variety into Microsoft's OS, which is now dominated by Nokia Lumia devices.

With its Snapdragon 801 processor, 1080p display, and feature-packed camera, this phone is the same as its original variant, and as such, the most powerful Windows Phone handset yet. What's more, the One M8's luxurious styling is a big threat to the Nokia's high-end aesthetics of the Lumia line.

But as a WP device, the M8 does have limits -- its OS is less customizable than Android, and it has a less robust app store. Anyone unaccustomed to the OS may see those points as a turn-off, but WP loyalists, who remain a very satisfied group, won't care. And if you're part of that latter group, this handset will undoubtedly satisfy your needs -- as only Microsoft's software and HTC's premium hardware can.

Availability

Currently, the One M8 for Windows Phone is available from Verizon for $99.99 on contract and $599.99 without. Though AT&T reported plans to carry the device too, no pricing or release date has been announced. T-Mobile also announced that it will sell the device in time for its 2014 holiday lineup.

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Though available on AT&T later, the device is currently only sold through Verizon Wireless. Josh Miller/CNET

Design

Like the HTC One , the device retains the same sophisticated all-metal, unibody chassis and a sturdy, comfortable grip. Thanks to its smoothly curved back, matte finish, and polished edges, the handset continues the One's legacy of unprecedented luxury. And though it's styled more conservatively than the original flagship, this phone still looks handsome and opulent.

For instance, the M8's bezel (where the screen and phone edge meet) is alluringly reflective and convincingly conveys that you're holding a high-end device. But it's not polished to the same eye-catching sheen as the first One was. And though the back of the M8 is lovingly minted in a classy brushed-metal motif that's smoother than its predecessor's (which had a roughness almost like a ceramic bowl), the slicker texture doesn't wick away moisture quite as effectively. The result is a slippery, more friendly canvas for grease than the previous matte back.

In other ways, however, the handset is just as beautiful as the One. It uses a gorgeous all-aluminum body that flaunts a similar curved backing, feels superbly solid and strong, and is well-constructed.

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For this One M8 variant, beauty is on both the inside and outside. Josh Miller/CNET

We admit that these are minor issues and this is nitpicking on our part since the phone brings important design improvements to the HTC One franchise. Notably, its screen is now larger -- 5 inches across diagonally (as opposed to the previous 4.7-inch display). And unlike the first One, HTC says the M8's chassis is truly built entirely from metal. By contrast, the company explained the original One's body was 70 percent aluminum, the rest being plastic.

Additionally, the device sports a pair of powerful stereo speakers that flank the display. Also branded by HTC as BoomSound, these front-firing grilles belt out a ton of sound, at least for a mobile handset. Even better, it's definitely louder and produces sound with way more presence than last year's model. This is because, HTC said, it enhanced the phone's BoomSound audio system by cranking up the volume by 25 percent, and improving its frequency range. But don't just take our word for it. Be sure to check out our deep dive into the HTC One M8's upgraded audio prowess.

Despite the larger display, the M8 remains roughly the same size, thickness, and weight. Tipping the scales at 5.4 ounces (154.2 grams), it understandably stands a little taller, and is just slightly heavier than the older One (5.04 ounces/142.9 grams). It's heavier than the LG G3 (5.28 ounces/149.69 grams) and the Samsung Galaxy S5 , too (5.1 ounces/145 grams) even though it lacks the extra hardware seen in the latter, such as a heart-rate monitor and fingerprint scanner.

HTC's One M8 cozies up with Windows Phone (pictures)

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Display

From the moment we picked up the device, we knew its big 5-inch screen would be high-quality. While it can't produce the same deep blacks and vibrant colors conjured by the OLED displays you'll find in Samsung Galaxy handsets (such as the Note 3 and GS4 ), its IPS LCD screen has a lot going for it. Specifically, admirably wide viewing angles, a pleasing amount of brightness, and rich colors.

With its full-HD resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels), photos, video, and text looked crisp, even if it has a marginally lower pixel density than the original One. (Given its smaller 4.7 inch screen, the One had 469ppi compared to the current 441ppi.) All this adds up to a display that does justice to any visual content you choose to enjoy.

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To protect that vibrant display, users can use the Dot View from HTC. Josh Miller/CNET

Some words of warning, though; if you choose to view the phone's screen in the great outdoors, do so without polarized sunglasses. When one of our reviewers, Brian Bennett, did this with his pair of Ray-Bans, the screen in portrait orientation was dim to the point of being unreadable. Under landscape position, however, there weren't any problems, and the display was just as bright as usual under these conditions.

Core components

The One M8 for Windows Phone has the same hardware specs as the original M8. Tucked inside this metallic beauty are high-octane parts to match its lovely looks. Powering the device is a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor. The One M8 was the first of a new crop of flagships for 2014 to feature the Snapdragon 801; two others are the GS5 and Sony Xperia Z2 . Although the GS5's CPU clocks in at 2.5GHz, users will hardly notice the difference.

Built by dominant mobile chip maker Qualcomm, the company says the 801 offers 25 percent faster graphics than the Snapdragon 800 that powers devices like the Nokia Lumia Icon and the Lumia 1520. This means speedier gameplay and swifter Web surfing. The 801 was also designed to not break a sweat when heavily editing photos after you've taken them.


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This phone boasts the same powerful specs as the original One M8. Josh Miller/CNET

Buttressing this is a healthy 2GB supply of RAM and 32GB of internal storage with the option to expand up to 128GB via a microSD card. This is great for anyone who tends to load their gadgets up with music and movies. Be advised that the handset requires a nano-size SIM card, whereas the first One used larger Micro-SIMs, so a new card (or adapter) might be in order.

Windows Phone 8.1.1 software features

Of course, what makes this One M8 unique is that it runs Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1.1 . An animated, clean, and colorful OS, Windows Phone is denoted by its live tile home screen grid, and deep integration with Microsoft ventures like Skype , Xbox , Office, and Outlook. But while it has garnered a respectable number of loyal and passionate users, its app platform falls behind that of iOS and Android.

True, the Windows app store is steadily growing day by day, and Microsoft announced earlier this month that it hit 300,000 apps. In comparison, however, both the Apple App Store and Google's Play store currently have over 1 million apps each. If Windows Phone has all the apps you need and are going to need, you won't lose any sleep about these numbers. But for those considering a switch, it's an important fact to keep in mind.

Some essential apps to get you settled in are Facebook, an FM radio, the Bing Health and Fitness app, OneDrive cloud storage, Bing Maps, a weather app, OneNote, Slacker Radio, and a digital wallet app. There's also the Internet Explorer 11 Web browser, which now features a reading mode and private browsing called InPrivate.

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The three-column Live Tile home screen (left) and the pull-down notifications shade. Lynn La/CNET

Though there are several new software features with the 8.1.1 update, a few notable additions include Miracast, support for Microsoft Project My Screen, a three-column live tile homescreen, gesture typing, and a pull-down notifications shade. Click here for a full Windows Phone 8.1 rundown .

The device also has Cortana , a digital voice and search assistant that can schedule appointments, look up businesses, identify music, and much more. It can also set up reminders for you in relation to your contacts, like bidding someone happy birthday the next time they call. Irreverent and sassy at times (it can even tell you a joke if you ask it to), Cortana also has a notebook where it keeps tabs on your favorite places, restaurants, and news topics to better cater to your interests. Click here to see how it stacks up against other voice-activated assistants, like Apple's Siri and Google Now.

When it comes to the OS being integrated specifically with this handset, it has some signature HTC software, too. There's BlinkFeed, a Flipboard-esque app that combines your preferred news topics and your social media networks together. There's also HTC Sense TV, which transforms the phone into a universal remote using the IR blaster located on the top edge. The camera UI is called the HTC Camera and HTC Photo Edit is also loaded. The latter lets users apply up to 11 Instagram-esque filters to their photos, as well as quirky frames.

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You can begin using Cortana by asking a question (left), and fill out a short questionnaire about your interests for its reference notebook. Lynn La/CNET

Verizon threw in some of its own flavoring, too. An exclusive deal with NFL Mobile adds a year of NFL game-streaming for those who add this phone onto their More Everything plan. There's VZ voice navigation that works with Bing Maps, and it's the first Windows phone to support Verizon Messages.

Unlike the original M8, this device lacks some gesture controls that help users carry out certain tasks. While you can still double tap the screen to wake up the handset, you can't launch the camera by holding the phone in landscape mode and pressing down the volume keys.

Camera

Undoubtedly the wildest feature about the phone's camera and imaging system is the two camera lenses on its back, as well as a dual-LED flash array. While the larger of the M8's eyes supports its main camera and handles traditional photo duties, the smaller lens (which is on top of it) tackles depth perception.

Every time you snap a picture, the handset records optical data from its second vantage point seen through its depth-sensing lens. As a result, you can refocus images after you take them. So, for instance, you can choose subjects in the foreground to focus on while simultaneously blurring objects in the background.

HTC calls this feature UFocus, and it replicates the shallow depth of field that skilled owners of dSLR cameras often use to great aesthetic effect. It's a technique the Nokia Lumia 1020 , the Lytro Light Field Camera first strived to create through clever software processing. The Galaxy S5 and LG G3 have similar tricks, too.

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The device has dual rear-facing cameras, one of which is for depth perception. Josh Miller/CNET

Also placed here is a feature named Foregrounder which applies up to four special filters to the background, like simulated pencil sketch marks and motion blurring. Another tool called 3D Dimension Plus warps pictures to give them a cartoony, madhouse depth that you can alter by swiping or tilting the phone at various angles.

According to HTC, 90 to 95 percent of the Android variant's camera app functions have ported over to Windows Phone. As such, some Foregrounder effects were eliminated, like animated snowflakes and flower petals. HTC's Zoe engine has also been stripped away. Zoe is a gallery feature that groups images and videos by events and dates, and mashes them in highlight reels with canned themes and music. Here, pictures are instead organized chronologically, in static tabs denoting all, albums, or favorites. There is an app called Video Highlights, though, that can do this with some effect.

In addition to the M8's unconventional camera abilities, you'll also get several shooting modes, such as panoramic, HDR, night, antishake, landscape, backlight, and macro, among others. There's also Lenses, a tool that integrates third-party camera apps directly into the camera, previously seen in previous WP devices. Bing Vision is preloaded to get you started (it can scan QR codes and translate text through the camera lens), but you can always download more lenses through the Windows Phone app store.

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Here, the background is blurred with UFocus for extra dramatic effect. Lynn La/CNET

In addition to offering options for crop sizes, gridlines, self-timers, and continuous shooting, there are manual camera settings for just about everything. Some include ISO levels, white balance, exposure, contrast, and saturation. Oddly, you can't adjust image resolution. This limit over photo size is perhaps due to the handset's 4-Ultrapixel sensor (really 4MP), and it reads as very low-res compared with those in competing handsets like the GS45 Note 3, and G3 (all of which pack sharper 13-megapixel systems).

Like with the images taken on previous One M8 variants, the pictures on the M8 for Windows Phone left us unimpressed. While colors were accurate and white balance was accurate with both indoor and outdoor settings, details appeared soft, with blurred edges. What's more, a deeper dive revealed that the phone had difficulty with varied lighting conditions. Light sources and backlighting were often overexposed, and bright skies in HDR mode were blown out.

Compared with several Nokia Lumias, this device just isn't up to par. Not counting the 41-megapixel 1020 , which is on another plane of its own, handsets like the Lumia Icon, the 1520, and the 928 excel at taking defined, ultrasharp pictures in both well- and dimly lit settings. They're also jam-packed with camera tricks from Nokia and optic technology from Carl Zeiss.

On the other hand, we can say with confidence that the One M8 camera does snap pictures like a speed demon, with shot-to-shot times being virtually instantaneous. For more information about these pictures, be sure to click on them below to view them at their full resolution.

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In this well-lit indoor photo, the light source is overblown on the right, and the dark room to the left looks grainy. Lynn La/CNET

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Objects in this outdoor photo are in focus, but the sun to the left is overexposed. Josh Miller/CNET

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This close-up picture of this flower looks a bit soft, with blurred edges around the petals. Lynn La/CNET

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In our standard studio shot, objects are in focus, but there is a soft brown tint against the white background. Lynn La/CNET

Performance

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) One M8 in our San Francisco office, and call quality was great. Signal never dropped, audio didn't cut in and out, and we didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or noise. Though our calling partner sounded a bit muffled and compressed, it was still easy to understand her, and volume levels were adequately loud. In addition, the external speaker was the best we've ever heard on any mobile device. Compared with calls made on others, our partner sounded very loud and rich. Likewise, we were told that we sounded solid as well -- our voice was clear, and there was no distracting static coming out of our line.

Podcast

For a high-end handset on Verizon, I expected 4G LTE data speeds to be much faster. And while its speeds were at no means glacial, it was slower than I expected. On average, it took 6 and 10 seconds to load CNET's mobile and desktop sites, respectively. The New York Times' mobile page finished loading after 7 seconds and its desktop version loaded in 8. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 7 seconds and 16 seconds passed for the full Web page. Ookla's speed test app averaged out to a staggeringly low rate of 1.78Mbps down and 2.87Mbps up. Lastly, the 47MB game Temple Run 2 finished downloading and installing in about 1 minute and 26 seconds.

HTC One M8 for Windows Phone (Verizon Wireless) performance times

Average 4G LTE download speed 1.78Mbps
Average 4G LTE upload speed 2.87Mbps
Temple Run 2 app download (47MB) 1 minute, 26 seconds
CNET mobile site load 6 seconds
CNET desktop site load 10 seconds
Restart time 1 minute, 20 seconds
Camera boot time 2.96 seconds

We were prepared for the handset to pack a processing punch, and it did. but I admit I wasn't expecting it to hit as hard as it did. Its best AnTuTu benchmark score clocked in at 27,408, beating out both the Lumia Icon and the Lumia 1520, which scored 25,998 and 22,475, respectively. Everyday use mirrored our benchmark tests; the phone hummed through its various functions effortlessly. Though the dynamic animations that come with the Windows Phone OS make it "feel" that the M8 moves a tad slower than its Android counterpart, it still launches, closes, and flips between apps and menus seamlessly and smoothly. In a phrase, the device handles like greased lightning.

Equipped with a nonremovable 2,600mAh battery, the handset falls between the Lumia Icon's 2,420mAh capacity and the Lumia 1520's supersize 3,400mAh battery. It has a reported usage time of up to 21 hours, and the original M8 chugged along for 14 hours and 18 minutes during the official CNET Labs video battery drain benchmark. This device specifically lasted an impressive 21 hours and 9 minutes for continuous talk time. According to FCC radiation measurements, the phone has a SAR rating of 0.83W/kg.

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A few of the handsets data speed rates (left) and its best AnTuTu benchmark score. Lynn La/CNET

Conclusion

If you're deciding which HTC One M8 variant to get, the original Android device has access to more apps, games, and media through the Google Play store. Sure, you're not going to need all the software in the world, but having a wider array of choices is reassuring. Plus, Verizon offers more color choices, and you'll get some extra HTC features like the Zoe Camera and gesture controls.

This is not to disregard this Windows Phone device altogether, however. When you consider that one of the biggest draws Android has is its sheer variety -- from manufacturers, to displays, to body builds, and so on -- having HTC carve a high-end space inside this particular platform means the WP world just got bit spicier. Sure, Nokia Lumias have been good to WP users so far, but the freedom of choice is what makes this One M8 significant.

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The One M8 brings much-needed variety to the Windows Phone market. Josh Miller/CNET

So when it comes to WP handsets, Verizon offers a few options. Understandably, budget-conscious users may opt for the Nokia Icon . Though it has a less powerful battery and processor, it is currently free with a Verizon contract and has an excellent camera as mentioned before. The Samsung Ativ SE is also a promising choice. We haven't taken a look at it yet, but it's the same price as the $99.99 One M8, and sports top-tier specs.

But for the here and now, the One M8 is sure to please. Powerful, stylish, and with the new features in the 8.1.1 update, you'll be ahead of the software curve. And as a WP loyalist, isn't that the best place to be?

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8.3

HTC One M8 for Windows Phone

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8